Bicycle sales are up. But cars? Who needs 'em?
That seems to be the attitude among consumers as they drastically cut back spending on their wheels. So far in 2008, car sales are headed for the lowest level in at least 15 years. With a full-blown recession settling in, it looks like next year will be just as grim, if not worse. The shrinkage is so dramatic that General Motors has talked with both of its crosstown rivals, Ford and Chrysler, about some kind of merger. If the Detroit 3 don't consolidate, analysts think at least one of them could run out of cash by late 2009—and maybe go belly up.
With an oversupply of cars, we ferreted out the ones that few people would miss if they suddenly disappeared. We started by analyzing data from J.D. Power and Associates to determine which mainstream cars have fallen the most in sales this year. Of those, we highlighted the ones that score in the bottom half of their categories in the U.S.News car and truck rankings. Here are the cars with the least appeal to both critics and consumers:
• Sales this year: Down 55 percent
• U.S. News rank: 9 out of 10
That thing got a hemi? Hopefully not. This 7-passenger SUV with the classic boxy design enjoyed a heyday in the distant past, before gas prices spiked above $3 per gallon. But in frugal times, nobody wants a pricey rock-climber that averages 16 mpg on a good day.
• Sales this year: Down 28 percent
• U.S. News rank: 26 out of 27
If you can tell the difference between the Jeep Compass, the Jeep Patriot, and the Jeep Liberty, maybe you should be running this troubled division of Chrysler. But too many overlapping models means even this thrifty crossover is lost in a crowded market.
• Sales this year: Down 54 percent
• U.S. News rank: 6 out of 10
Huge is history, bad news for yet another hulking SUV (and its cousin, the Chrysler Aspen). A new hybrid version of the Durango boosts mileage from the teens into the low 20s, but it's way too expensive for most consumers.
• Sales this year: Down 49 percent
• U.S. News rank: 35 out of 35
Ever seen one of these on the road? Actually, you probably have, but this econobox is so bland you probably didn't notice it. And weak safety scores scream "Avoid me!"
Mercury Grand Marquis
• Sales this year: Down 40 percent
• U.S. News rank: 9 out of 9
This aged sedan is a throwback to the days when whitewalls were cool and Sarah Palin was a beauty queen. That was then.
• Sales this year: Down 16 percent
• U.S. News rank: 19 out of 23
You can get it with portholes. Because once, back in the Paleolithic era, they were considered stylish on cars. But such essential features don't change the fact that the LaCrosse still feels like a rental car that few people want to keep in their driveway for long.
• Sales this year: Down 46 percent
• U.S. News rank: 23 out of 27
It's got aggressive styling, decent mileage, and a reasonable price—yet sales are still dismal. Blame cheap cabin materials and weak performance compared with Honda and Toyota.
• Sales this year: Down 39 percent
• U.S. News rank: 18 out of 26
Frugal consumers are turned off by big, muscular SUVs like the Pathfinder. The even-bigger Armada version might look more dignified in a museum than in your driveway.
• Sales this year: Down 36 percent
• U.S. News rank: 15 out of 27 (23 out of 27, crossover)
What? You haven't seen the Torrent tearing around your neighborhood? Maybe that's because a marginal SUV from one of GM's weakest divisions has no cachet whatsoever.
• Sales this year: Down 37 percent
• U.S. News rank: 25 out of 26
Like the nearly identical GMC Envoy, the TrailBlazer was a big hit back when buyers had extra cash to spend on hauling capacity and off-roading capability that they didn't really need. Now, more practical haulers—like G.M.'s own Saturn Outlook and GMC Acadia—have bumped the TrailBlazer off of dealer lots.